AFGHANISTAN
Taliban: Talks with U.S. set for Monday

Taliban negotiators will meet their U.S. counterparts Monday in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, as part of accelerating diplomacy to end more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Wednesday.

But a U.S. State Department representative said in a statement that the United States had “not received a formal invitation to any talks.”

The talks would come a week ahead of previously scheduled negotiations between the two sides in Qatar on Feb. 25. Mujahid said in a statement that the Qatar talks would still take place as scheduled.

Mujahid said his side would also meet with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.

While he said the Taliban delegation would meet with the U.S. team, he did not specify any meetings with the team head, U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is due in Pakistan ahead of the Qatar talks as part of a six-country swing through Europe and the Middle East as he tries to build support for efforts to end the Afghan war.

— Reuters

MIDDLE EAST
Israel rejects U.N. visit to Palestinian enclaves

Israel has refused to allow the U.N. Security Council to visit the territory that the Palestinians claim for a future independent state, U.N. diplomats say.

Last week, the council authorized its current president, Equatorial Guinea’s Anatolio Ndong Mba, to consult the Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors about such a trip.

Riyad Mansour, the ambassador of the Palestinian observer mission to the United Nations, immediately responded, saying a council visit would be viewed “in the most positive way.” But Kuwait’s U.N. Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said Ndong Mba reported to a closed council meeting Wednesday that “Israel categorically refused the council visit,” though Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon said the government would welcome visits to Israel by individual ambassadors.

A council visit requires support from all 15 council members and approval by the countries concerned. Several other members confirmed Danon’s rejection. There have been multiple requests for the Security Council to visit the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital. All have been unsuccessful.

— Associated Press

Venezuelan assembly appoints board for state oil company: Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly named a transitional board of directors for the state oil company, in a bid by assembly chief Juan Guaidó to gain control of an industry that is the economic backbone of the country. Guaidó, who has declared himself interim president in a push to oust socialist President Nicolás Maduro, said the board will also oversee PDVSA's U.S. subsidiary, Houston-based refiner Citgo.

U.S. delivers rockets to Lebanon's army: The United States has delivered laser-guided rockets valued at more than $16 million to Lebanon, demonstrating what it called its "firm and steady commitment" to the country's army. The United States has supplied the Lebanese military with more than $2.3 billion in aid since 2005, aiming to support it as "the sole, legitimate defender" of a country where the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group holds major sway.

Spain could face snap election: Spain's parliament has rejected the government's 2019 draft budget, pushing the country to the brink of a national election. Sources in the government and the Socialist party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said he would call a snap election if the draft was rejected, with April 14 or April 28 the most likely dates. His decision is expected Friday.

Instagram account removed after Indonesia protests: An Instagram account displaying comic strips depicting the struggles faced by gay Muslim men was removed after officials labeled it "pornographic" and threatened to block the platform. Indonesia's Communications Ministry said Instagram took down the account, under the name @Alpantuni, at its request.

Saudi Arabia added to E.U. blacklist: The European Commission added Saudi Arabia, Panama, Nigeria and others to a blacklist of nations seen as posing a threat because of lax controls on terrorism financing and money laundering. The move is part of a crackdown on money laundering after several scandals at E.U. banks.

— From news services